Massive losses to agriculture

Province-wise
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Extensive losses in agriculture and related sectors

By Tahir Ali

Rehabilitation of farmers and revival of agro economy in post-flood Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is unlikely to start soon as neither KPK itself has the fiscal space available with it nor the federal government and international community have provided it with the necessary funds required for the purpose.

Development and rehabilitation of agriculture is crucial to defeat terrorism and extremism in the region as over 80 per cent of the people depend on the sector directly or indirectly, for their income. Failure to ensure quick damage assessment and provide relief and reconstruction would be exploited by the militants who are always there to capitalize on the weaknesses of the government.

The devastating floods have inflicted losses amounting to billions of dollars on agriculture and its related sectors. According to preliminary estimates, the losses to the agriculture sector in crops, livestock and irrigation systems stand at Rs12 bn, Rs7 bn and Rs10.6 bn respectively.

The inundation of vast agricultural lands, destruction of irrigation channels and thousands of tonnes of ready-to-use seeds would not only impact crop production in the coming season but is likely to lead to food shortages and inflation.

The president of the Kisan Board Pakistan said that the flash-floods not only destroyed standing crops over an estimated 0.46 million acres of land in the province as well as horticulture, they also eroded the fields and made them uncultivable by excessive accumulation of mud and water. This soil erosion is likely to result in boundary feuds and legal fights on the fields causing a ban on farming thereon till the disposal of cases. It also means that the tilled and irrigated land in the province, which is 30 per cent of the cultivable land, might have decreased further which can have detrimental effects on agriculture in KPK. The destruction of irrigation infrastructure such as the Munda Headwork that irrigated around 0.3 mn acres of land is yet another blow.

The disruption in supply of vegetables and fruits to markets has resulted in food inflation. Tomatoes, potatoes, meat, fruit, wheat-flour and other food items have registered an increase of about 30 to 100 per cent. This price-hike will have highly negative fallouts for the majority of the poor if the government does not come to their rescue by increasing or maintaining the level of food subsidies.

An official from the irrigation department said that the losses to irrigation infrastructure in all the ten major canal systems in KPK amount to Rs10.6 bn. He said the department was trying its level best to do the necessary minor repair and cleanliness work to restore water availability within a month.

The secretary general of the KPK Chamber of Agriculture was of the opinion that the farms will have to be cleaned from the mud and leveled. For that the government will have to provide sufficient machinery and resources. That might not be an easy task keeping in view the fact that this would require enormous funds, machinery and personnel.

The floods have also damaged the vital livestock sector. An official said that floods have killed 0.15 million animals worth Rs7 bn. This loss is very troubling as the death of income generating livestock is not only perilous in that the farmers are deprived of their main source of income but it would also lead to shortages and price hike of animal-products like meat and milk.

An official in the KPK’s ministry of agriculture said, “KPK is a food deficient province which relies for over 3/4th of its food needs on Punjab and Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) which too is badly hit and may not be in a position to provide us the wheat we need. And the destruction of the maize crop and the expected drop in wheat cultivation will drastically hit the province and farmers financially. Commoners too would be impacted and will have to be saved from the food inflation.”

The wheat subsidy is Rs14.08 bn for this year. But it may have to be increased due to an almost certain drop in local wheat production and surge in the import bill of wheat.

As a short term measure, the government will have to ensure a speedy damage assessment and provide farmers with immediate relief so that they could prepare their fields themselves.

As a medium term measure, it should immediately restore the communication system, address the critical problem of demarcation and rehabilitation of fields and irrigation networks. For this purpose, the government must arrange for tractors and other field leveling machinery to the affected farmers. The escalating debt burden of farmers also needs immediate intervention. They also need to be provided free or subsidized agriculture inputs and fodder for their living animals. Agriculture loans of the farmers should be written off or at least interest thereon should be remitted. Easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers to restart their businesses are also overdue.

As a long term measure, the government needs to better plan for the future, form a permanent and independent flood rehabilitation commission and construct small and large dams to absorb high river flows in future.

Formation of a credible and independent National Rehabilitation Commission to ensure transparency in the collection, management and distribution of relief and rehabilitation funds is the call of the hour.

It is high time that farmers in the flood-ravaged areas are exempted from malia and abiana and other taxes for a couple of years. Farmers in Charasdda, the worst-hit district, also urged the political administration for free provision of agricultural inputs for this year.

To cope with the catastrophe, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has asked for Rs10 bn for the time being from the federal government. The federal government should announce a big compensation and rehabilitation package for the flood-hit people, including farmers.  The government will have to adopt simplicity to save funds for both relief and rehabilitation phases.

The flooding is “well timed” in that it occurred in Ramadan. In this month people whole heartedly support the poor and needy and this opportunity should be utilized to the maximum.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

One Response to Massive losses to agriculture

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